Sunday Walk: Stepping out with Frankenstein and two hyenas in petticoats

Shelley and his gang are haunting the byways of Bournemouth.
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The Independent Travel
Bournemouth's St Peter's Church is an ordinary enough church in the middle of town, just opposite the tourist information centre. One of its tombs, on top of churchyard bank, however, is far from run- of-the-mill: it houses nothing less than two "Hyenas in Petticoats".

This is the title of an exhibition opening at London's National Portrait Gallery next Friday, featuring two of the most formidable women in British history: Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley. The exhibition celebrates their double bicentenary: in 1797 Mary Shelley, wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and author of Frankenstein, was born, while her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, died.

Neither woman knew Bournemouth. Indeed, Mary Wollstonecraft was first buried in the churchyard of Old St Pancras Church in London where she had married the philosopher, William Godwin. However, by 1851 St Pancras was threatened by the arrival of the railway so their bodies were transferred to Bournemouth where their grandson, Sir Percy Florence Shelley, had just set up home. The Dorset author-to-be, Thomas Hardy, was responsible for the burial arrangements.

Mary Shelley, who died in London the same year, was buried alongside, and eventually her husband's heart - snatched by Lord Byron from the cremation fire on Viareggio beach in Italy - was also placed in the tomb. The shrivelled heart had been kept in a shrine at Sir Percy's home at Boscombe Manor, which is known today as Shelley Park, and houses the only museum devoted to the Romantic poet. To reach Shelley Park locate the newly-cleaned, white Shelley tomb near the top of the churchyard's 39 steps. Continue past the box tomb of Bournemouth's founder, Lewis Tregonwell, to reach a gateway. Go straight ahead along Parsonage Road to the top of Bath Hill where there is a fine sea view.

Turn left and carry on for a few yards, but before the roundabout, cross the road and proceed along Grove Road - Farthings is on the right just before the Hotel Miramar, where J R R Tolkien often stayed.

At a crossroads turn right past the rare Penfold letterbox, which has been there since 1876. A little further on to the left there is the Carlton Hotel, where Dwight D Eisenhower and Field-Marshal Montgomery discussed plans for D-Day. Ahead is a cliff viewpoint looking out over the English Channel, with Hengistbury Head and the Isle of Purbeck embracing Poole Bay. On clear days the Isle of Wight can be seen to the south-east.

Turn along the clifftop. The Manor Steps Beach notice marks the spot where in the 1870s there were wooden steps used, among others, by the writer, John Galsworthy, when he attended a school nearby. A decade later Lady Shelley, the poet's daughter-in-law, backed the building of the nearby Boscombe pier.

Where the path bifurcates, avoid the route going straight ahead down the steep descent into Boscombe Gardens; instead take the higher path (marked "no cycling") a little further on. After passing two benches, the path goes downhill and enters a wooded valley. Turn left to reach a long bridge spanning the chine - the local name for a ravine in the cliffs. When Sir Percy Shelley lived nearby, this was largely open sandy ground without the pines that are growing there today.

Cross the chine and go ahead up the steps to reach Boscombe Spa Road. Carry on along Owls Road. Pass the Burlington Hotel and the Seagull pub to reach a crossroads. Over to the right is the unusual San Remo Towers flats, which were built in 1938.

Cross over into Percy Road, which is the former driveway of the house that Percy Bysshe Shelley lived in. A little further on are Wollstonecraft Road and Byron Road. Ahead is Shelley Park, where the small mansion, now an art college, contains the Shelley Rooms. The clifftop grounds have enough trees, other than pines, to indicate that this is clearly a former garden rather than a planned municipal park.

At the house Lady Shelley kept her father-in-law's heart in an alcove with a red lamp burning alongside. Her other Shelley reliques became the basis of the Bodleian collection. The present museum here is the Casa Magni Shelley Museum started in the poet's final home in Italy but brought here in 1979. Most items are not on view but casual visitors will find stained glass from Casa Magni and a model of Byron's yacht among the exhibits in the two public rooms. A mural depicts Casa Magni at Lerici which, unlike Bournemouth, was known to Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley.

To get back to the main road and the buses, take the road opposite - Chessel Avenue, another former driveway.

South West Trains runs to Bournemouth from London Waterloo and Weymouth. The Shelley Rooms in Bournemouth are open from 2 to 5pm daily, except on Mondays; admission is free. The tourist information office is on 01202 451700. The "Hyenas in Petticoats" exhibition at London's National Portrait Gallery opens on Friday, and continues until 15 February next year; admission is free.

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